The Common Good

Kids Who Work

Sojomail - June 25, 2003

Quote of the Week John Stott: The Christian church has lost its bearings
Batteries Not Included David Batstone: Kids who work
By the Numbers The spam virus
Funny Business The inflatable church
Politically Connect Benton Harbor: Tearing down the house
Soul Works Joan Chittister: Doesn't anything matter anymore?
Boomerang SojoMail readers hit reply
Eco News Rage against the (green) machine
Culture Watch Abe who? BBC poll: Homer Simpson is the greatest American
Web Scene Measuring global corporate responsibility | Corporate America stumbles over gender parity | Have your kids read Harry Potter with (new) friends | Mindless action adventure
Stott: The Christian church has lost its bearings

"The great tragedy in the church today is that evangelicals are biblical but not contemporary, while liberals are contemporary but not biblical. We need faithfulness to the ancient word and sensitivity to the modern world."

- Rev. John Stott in "Between Two Worlds"

Kids who work
by David Batstone

I just returned from a lengthy trip to Peru with a dozen of my University of San Francisco students. After a year studying economic development and social justice, we made this study tour to take a firsthand look at the complexity of underdevelopment. We focused on three micro-economic environments in Peru, and spent a week evaluating the peculiarities of each: the urban area of Lima, the Alto Plano of the Andes, and the rainforest of the Amazonia Basin. In an upcoming issue of Sojourners magazine, look for my reflections on the conflicts - or perhaps trade-offs - that mark environmentalism and local economic development in the rainforest.

Let it be noted here, however, that political and economic solutions that look so universal from U.S. shores quickly turn relative on the ground. If any one theme emerged as a thread among the three experiences, this is it.

The condemnation of child labor is a good example. Nearly all Western human rights groups monitor it, and fair trade activists lobby to make it a standard for compliance. The best "compacts" for corporate behavior in global markets - the SA 8000, for instance - ban the employment of children under 15 years of age.

It was a bit surprising, therefore, that the primary strategy of a highly respected center for street kids in Lima was to put the kids to work. My group spent seven days working closely with Generacion, the largest independent (no government funding) project for homeless youth in Peru's capital. Generacion's goal is to teach kids as young as 11 years old employable skills so that they can fend for themselves, and not be forced to resort to more destructive trade. Young girls who once served as child prostitutes, for example, now run a bakery at one of Generacion's centers. Other children are taught gardening skills, and Generacion helps them land jobs at city parks, government facilities, or private residences. The kids keep their "salary" and manage their own job responsibilities. The director of Generacion argues that work does more than put money in kids' pockets - it gives them a discipline otherwise absent in their lives. Placing them in a school - even if that were a viable option - is untenable, says the director. There are no breadwinners at home.

In the Alto Plano of the Andes, children from poor, rural families also go to work at a young age. Sustenance requires that everyone, even small hands, carry a part of the load. In this region of Peru, that means agricultural work; I saw many kids herding livestock or working the fields.

It brings to mind a dilemma posed to me recently by a woman who monitors global purchasing at a major clothes retailer. Due to past violations, the retailer is very sensitive to practices of "sweat labor." She shared with me, however, that producers in underdeveloped regions often organize into collectives to mask the family labor taking place in individual homes. In that case, the producer can legitimately say that no child labor takes place at their work facility. But the "outside contractors" very well may be families that put their own kids to work. Such practices violate her notion of "child rights"; but does that mean she should shut down families who simply are struggling to subsist?

I myself have four children, a girl and three boys. Over the summer, they enjoy a time of leisure before they return back to school full-time in the fall. I do everything possible to ensure that they "get to be kids" during this stage of their lives. I realize that I hold that expectation as a privilege - and a provisional notion at an economic moment in history. Political progressives need to be careful not to turn their own privilege into a road block for those who are not so lucky.

Read more commentary by David Batstone at:


CELEBRATION and CHALLENGE - Come hear and share the dreams God is giving to Christian leaders and workers, and discuss the challenges as we strive to see these dreams realized at the 30th anniversary conference hosted by Evangelicals for Social Action, July 24-27, at Eastern University, Philadelphia, PA. Speakers and seminars will spotlight evangelicals' past accomplishments and future goals in the areas of justice for the poor and holistic ministry.

For more information, go to: or call: 800-650-6600.

The spam virus

*Nearly 140 million users worldwide access their e-mail via Microsoft's Hotmail service.

*Microsoft estimates that more than 80 percent of the 2.5 billion e-mail messages sent each day to Hotmail users are spam.

Source: The New York Times [06/18/03]

The inflatable church

You might find it hard to believe - but 'tis true...

Sojourners Sustainers CircleReceive a complimentary subscription to Sojourners magazine when you join the Sustainers Circle, Sojourners' monthly giving program, with a gift of $10 or more per month. Join online today at:

Benton Harbor: Tearing down the house
by Chris Momany

Last week I turned on CNN and saw my old neighborhood burning. The earliest years of my life were spent living within a few blocks of the place wracked by recent violence in Benton Harbor. I will always treasure my childhood experience on East Empire Avenue: the rambling old house, the interracial friendships, baseball in the alley, and Sterne Brunson School. I could not have designed a more stimulating environment for learning about difference. My fourth-grade teacher was the first "womanist theologian" I ever met, though we didn't know the term at that time.

Race has been an exceedingly volatile issue throughout Benton Harbor and the predominantly white surrounding communities. We must certainly address the crisis of race, but another dynamic cannot be ignored: economics. A CNN/Time poll asked viewers to fix responsibility for the recent unrest in Benton Harbor. Respondents could choose the city government, the schools, the churches, or all of the above. Economic power was not even considered.

Benton Harbor has been in pain since the 1960s, when heavy industry began its abandonment of "rust belt" communities. Concepts like "downsizing," "outsourcing," and "job exportation" were practically invented in my hometown. By the 1990s, Benton Harbor's largest employer pulled the plug on several hundred manufacturing jobs. I've seen the industrial facilities that made millionaires of a few choice families become toxic waste sites. When labor challenged management, some owners walked away, leaving taxpayers and hardworking public servants to clean up the mess. We live in an era when media images and monopolistic corporate interests determine what (and who) is of "value." Enron-like duplicity is more common than we admit, and chief executive compensation has increased at an obscene rate. But we can't talk about such things. Instead we enact more tax cuts for the wealthy and wall off the poor.

Recently I have been writing on the pastoral epistles (1 and 2 Timothy and Titus). Many underrate these texts as timid (and sometimes reactionary) instruments of social control. Yet a deeper look reveals a challenging word. The overriding theme of the pastorals is that of the "household" (from the Greek, oikos) of God. It is no accident that the term "economy" is derived from a form of this word (oikonomia). Among the early church the "economy" was not a marketplace for the private maximization of profit. The economy was the "household" of God that demanded just relationships and an equitable sharing of resources. If the church were the kind of household described in the scriptures, we would express very different "economic" principles than those assumed today. Let's remember that when we confront the host of critical issues that divide us.

*Chris Momany is a United Methodist pastor and a college chaplain at Adrian College in Michigan.

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Doesn't anything matter anymore?
by Joan Chittister

This is what I don't understand: All of a sudden nothing seems to matter. First, they said they wanted bin Laden "dead or alive." But they didn't get him. So now they tell us that it doesn't matter. Our mission is greater than one man.

Then they said they wanted Saddam Hussein, "dead or alive." He's apparently alive but we haven't got him yet, either. However, President Bush told reporters recently, "It doesn't matter. Our mission is greater than one man."

Finally, they told us that we were invading Iraq to destroy their weapons of mass destruction. Now they say those weapons probably don't exist. Maybe never existed. Apparently that doesn't matter either.

Except that it does matter.... If Bill Clinton's definition of "is" matters, surely this matters. If a president's sex life matters, surely a president's use of global force against some of the weakest people in the world matters. If a president's word in a court of law about a private indiscretion matters, surely a president's word to the community of nations and the security of millions of people matters."

- Joan Chittister, OSB, in a public address titled "Is There Anything Left That Matters?"

Sojourners Web HostingWeb Development and Hosting with Sojourners! Sojourners is considering a new service for our readers and partner organizations. If you (or your company, church, organization, university) is interested in developing a database-driven Web site on a tight budget, revamping your current site, need a reliable Web site host, or desire peace of mind from working with a like-minded organization, please e-mail Jeremiah at for more information.

SojoMail readers hit reply

Rachel Gray writes from San Antonio, Texas:

Thank you, Jim Wallis, for putting the international Sojourners spotlight on what San Antonians have known for years: the Spurs are excellent players and even better humanitarians. When asked about his triple double, Tim Duncan modestly acknowledged that he had not known about it and quickly turned the attention back to his teammates who, he said, were his focus during the game (rather than the usual players whose focus is simply to get attention). With all the attention David Robinson has been given because of his retirement, he has continued to tell everyone that "the best is yet to come." We wait for that time patiently, and only hope that our nation and world can have more people like David Robinson.


Don Bentley writes from La Puente, California:

I normally agree with Jim Wallis on just about everything he says. However, his characterization of the San Antonio Spurs as "a team full of nice guys" is wholly inaccurate. Avid fans of the NBA know that the San Antonio Spurs are one of the biggest "crybaby teams" of the NBA. NBA MVP Tim Duncan is the worst of the lot. I guess Mr. Duncan believes all calls should go his way. Gee...did Christ say that somewhere in scripture? I must have missed that passage. I am also surprised by Jim Wallis' "Christian" comments slamming the Los Angeles Lakers, where he stated that, "Perhaps the best thing the Spurs did this year was to beat the mighty Los Angeles (Hollywood Hype) Lakers...", and that we were not subject to post- game interviews "with oversized prima donnas droning on endlessly about themselves, but with polite and modest superstars giving the credit to their teammates, a great game, and even to God."

I would suggest that perhaps the one of the most refreshing things about the Lakers was that they did not endlessly thank God for their three consecutive NBA Championships, recognizing that God probably didn't care who won, as long as each individual competed to the level of talent that God had given them. As shocking as it may seem to the "non-Hollywood world," the Lakers do have a few Christians on the team. That "oversized prima donna" Mr. Wallis refers to is a devout Muslim. So much for ecumenism. I expected so much more from you, Mr. Wallis, than to denigrate one of the great NBA teams of all time as their three-year reign came to an end. At least that "God-less Hollywood star" Jack Nicholson did the proper "Christian" thing by congratulating the Spurs on national T.V. upon the their playoff victory over the Lakers.


Jennifer Kottler writes from Chicago, Illinois:

Being both 38 myself and a huge basketball fan, I have enjoyed watching David Robinson for all of his 14 years in the NBA, and I couldn't agree more with Jim Wallis' commentary about "nice guys finishing first." I was disappointed last year when the Spurs were eliminated and have been cheering them on all season long - while, of course, keeping my eye on all of the other national events that discourage and disappoint. Congratulations to the entire franchise for representing the sport in a way that brings out the best of what sports can be, and to David Robinson for being such a positive force in the San Antonio community. David's dad had a lot to be proud of on Sunday.


Thomas Pack writes from Ada, Oklahoma:

This is in response to Ken Koonce's comments [6-12-03] re: SojoMail's critique of the FCC action on media consolidation. According to its Web site, Sojourners seeks to offer commentary on social, political, and other issues from a Biblical perspective. The availability of many varied sources of news is good for democracy, public discussion of issues, and is necessary to obtain a generally well-rounded view of current events. In my view, all of this is absolutely necessary for a Christian to be equipped to have a prophetic voice in today's society, and the FCC's recent decision to deregulate the media further will definitely hinder that prophetic voice.


Jim Wohlgemuth writes from Centreville, Virginia:

Just wanted to say three cheers for Sharon Hall, and let's hear it again. She wrote:

"As a 12-year veteran and Persian Gulf war vet from the first round, I am disgusted with our administration's manipulation, lies, and deceit about why we as a nation moved our security strategy from defense to pre-emptive first strike against a country we have bombed and sanctioned for the past 12 years and then disarmed before our act of naked aggression - not for defense, but for profit and oil. They have disgraced the men and women in uniform, alive and dead, and they deserve to be impeached!"

As a Vietnam veteran, I am just shocked at the American public who could have lived through that debacle and then be willing to allow a pre-emptive strike against a country we are finding was never any threat to us. One drop of American, British, or Iraqi blood is way too much. There had to be a better way. We have to give peace a chance. Thanks to Sharon.


Tom Brooks (a U.S. taxpayer), writes from Spokane, Washington:

Whereas the Bush administration asked for U.N. weapons inspections of Iraq, and whereas the Bush administration was granted that request, but did not allow the U.N. weapons inspection team to conclude their inspections, and whereas no weapons of mass destruction have been found, and whereas there is no compelling evidence that Iraq (a sovereign nation) had official ties to al Qaeda, and whereas U.S. forces were met with mostly token resistance in Iraq, and whereas no biological or chemical or mass destruction weapons were used by Iraq against U.S. forces, and whereas it cannot be shown that Iraq posed a serious and imminent threat to the USA...

It is proposed that the Bush administration is guilty of fraud and/or ineptness and incompetence, and political and/or diplomatic and/or military malpractice, and that, therefore, a class-action lawsuit be directed at the personal assets of key figures in the Bush administration on behalf of all the soldiers (and their relatives) killed or maimed as a result of the "pre-emptive," unnecessary strike on Iraq, and for the fraudulent use and/or misuse of U.S. military forces, AND for compensation to the U.S. taxpayer for taxes used fraudulently/unnecessarily/recklessly.


Boomerang is an open forum for all kinds of views. The views expressed are not necessarily those of Sojourners. Want to make your voice heard? Send Boomerang e-mails to the editor:

Rage against the (green) machine

Nanotechnology is becoming a dirty word for European environmentalists. Some fear the growing field will give rise to biologically based machines that will blanket the globe in "green goo." Read all at:,1282,59287,00.html/wn_ascii

Abe who? BBC poll: Homer Simpson is the greatest American

Homer Simpson, the beer-drinking, donut-scarfing, bumbling nuclear-power plant technician of the Fox cartoon "The Simpsons," is the leading choice in an online poll to be named the "greatest American."

The animated buffoon ranks ahead of real-life heroes, including Presidents Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, and George Washington.

The poll is part of an upcoming broadcast by the British Broadcasting Corporation that will confront the critical question at the heart of the 21st century: What does the world think of America?

The BBC created a shortlist of 10 candidates based on nominations it received from the public. The top vote-getters rank in this order:

1. Homer Simpson
2. Abraham Lincoln
3. Martin Luther King Jr.
4. Thomas Jefferson
5. Mr. T of the "A-Team"
6. Bob Dylan
7. George Washington
8. Franklin D. Roosevelt
9. Benjamin Franklin
10. Bill Clinton

Source: [6/15/03]

*Measuring global corporate responsibility

"Principles for Global Corporate Responsibility: Bench Marks for Measuring Business Performance" is developed by the Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility, the Bench Marks Foundation of Southern Africa for Corporate Responsibility, and others. Link to:

*Corporate America stumbles over gender parity

A Conference Board report documents the obvious and the less apparent obstacles to achieving male-female equality in the workplace. Link to:

*Have your kids read Harry Potter with (new) friends

With summer upon us, kids age 8 to 14 will enjoy this community of fellow readers and writers from England. Read interviews with J.K. Rowling and other popular British authors. Post and read kids' book reviews, or contribute a scary cliffhanger story beginning or ending. Link to:

*Mindless action adventure

Pilot a simple helicopter through a scrolling landscape of cliffs and barriers. It's basic - the only control is a single mouse button, the graphics and colors are simplistic to the nth degree - but just try to limit yourself to one play. Link to:

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